Holden 355-powered 1974 LJ Torana

Mark Cirillo fell in love with this LJ coupe at age five. Nearly two decades later, he finally got the chance to own it and hasn't looked back


IT’S hard to deny the physical and emotional response one gets at the sound of a rumbling V8. Now imagine the impact that must have on the fresh synapses of an impressionable five-year-old.

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of Street Machine

For Mark Cirillo, now 25, the iconic Holden five-litre V8 has really helped shape his life thus far. Not only has Mark owned a string of V8-powered Holdens already, but he has also earned his trade as a mechanic.

“After I heard the heavy rumble of that 308 in my driveway for the first time at the age of five, I knew at some point that I would own this car,” Mark says. “It has been a dream of mine to own this very LJ ever since.”

Mark’s ’74 LJ originally belonged to a family friend by the name of Sam Vumbaca, who built the car himself throughout the course of the 1970s and 80s. “Sam wasn’t afraid of hard work,” Mark enthuses. “He fitted the 308ci to the LJ on the floor of his shed in the late 80s.”

Sam’s coupe would be sold on to one other owner before Mark finally got his chance to realise his dream. “I was only 23, but I made the owner an offer he couldn’t refuse,” he says. “I probably paid too much for it, but I just had to have it.”

The 13in Mawer three-piece rims evoke the heady days of 1970s Australian circuit racing and measure 8.5in at the front and 9in out back, shod in sticky Avon rubber

Fast-forward two weeks from the sale and Mark had already junked the original 308, and, as he explains, this set off a butterfly effect through the rest of the car. “This car has not only tested my patience as a mechanic, but I’ve considered selling it more times than I can count.”

With a new early-headed 355ci stroker housed within a freshly painted bay complete with hidden wiring and some subtle detailing, the LJ packs a potent period-looking combo that’s backed by a Super T10 four-speed and Ford 9in

With a busted mill, Mark had to fast-track any engine development ideas he may have had for the car down the line. Knowing he wanted to retain the old-school Holden V8 vibe, he went for a 355ci stroker that uses a COME Racing crank, H-beam Lunati rods and JE pistons to reach the magic number. A pair of B-cast heads sit on top of the short motor, with a Crane solid cam and Yella Terra roller rockers acting upon the Manley valves.

Air and fuel is fed into the chambers via a 750cfm Holley Ultra XP double-pumper on top of a high-rise Torque Power single-plane manifold. Together with the pressed-tin Holden rocker covers, the whole thing retains a decidedly old-school aesthetic, which is exactly how Mark likes it.

Mark has the combo backed by a Richmond Super T10 four-speed and a nine-inch out back with 3.55:1 gears and a Detroit Locker. As he hopes to get the coupe onto the race track in the future, you’ll also find an upgrade to LX Torana front calipers and slotted DBA discs up front, with XY Falcon drums under the bum. These hide behind some wonderfully retro 13-inch Mawer modular rims that were popular in the golden era of touring cars and were used by big names like Moffat and Brock.

Much of the pristine OE interior remains, with the addition of a Sparco race seat in the driver’s position, a Momo Cobra tiller, Auto Meter tacho and an alloy rollcage

An alloy rollcage currently weaves through the cabin, but Mark knows this will have to be replaced at some stage if he wants to get serious about hitting the twisty bits. While the rest of the trim is largely factory, Mark has a Sparco race seat in the driver’s position, while a Momo Cobra wheel somehow looks modern and old-school at the same time.

Mark has put his stamp on just about everything since buying the car – everything besides the paintwork. “I have modified everything to suit my taste, but I chose to leave the paint as a tribute to Sam, who did the paintwork himself 45 years ago!”

Michael Curcio helped Mark bring the old paint back to a deep shine, and it ties the whole project together. “Sam has passed away, but I am sure he would have given the car his tick of approval,” Mark says. “Since the car has been back on the road I don’t think I’ve taken it anywhere without it turning heads or being asked to pull over by other motorists so they can admire it. There are still more modifications I would love to do, but finding the time is a challenge.”


Colour: PPG Saffron Metallic

Type: HQ 308ci Holden stroked to 355ci
Intake: Torque Power single-plane high-rise
Carb: 750cfm Holley Ultra XP
Heads: B-cast heads, Manley valves, Yella Terra rockers
Cam: Crane solid cam, Crane springs and lifters
Crank: COME Racing crank, Pavtek mains girdle
Rods: Lunati H-beam rods
Pistons: JE
Ignition: OE dizzy, MSD Blaster coil
Exhaust: Custom 15/8in headers, twin 2.5in stainless system

‘Box: Super T10, CAE adapter
Diff: Ford 9in, 3.55:1 gears, Detroit Locker, 31-spline axles

Suspension: Lovells springs, Koni adjustable shocks, Nolathane bushings (f & r)
Brakes: DBA slotted discs and LX Torana calipers (f), XY Falcon drums (r); PBR XU-1 master cylinder

Wheel: Momo Cobra
Seats: Sparco driver’s seat
Gauges: VDO and Auto Meter

Rims: Mawer three-piece; 13×8.5 (f), 13×9 (r)
Rubber: Avon 215/55/13 (f & r)

All my family and friends who have helped me throughout the build, especially my cousins; Michael Curcio for finally parting with the car and restoring the 45-year-old paintwork back to perfection; Paul Vescio from Procar – if it wasn’t for him, the car wouldn’t be what it is today